From Photographic Art to Photography in Art

“From Photographic Art to Photography in Art,” in Ieva Astahovska, ed., Nineties. Contemporary Art in Latvia (Riga: The Latvian Center for Contemporary Art, 2010), 296-306. ISBN 9789934807831.


In the first half of the 1990s, along with a celebration of different “new” art media, photography emerged in the art discourse of Latvia mainly as documentary medium. This article provides an insight into the various public discussions which at the turn of the 21st century resulted in the acceptance of photography, alongside moving pictures and sound, as a legitimate medium for contemporary art.

The concept of “photographic art”, narrowly tied to the particular medium and specifically referring to the amateur photographer activity cultivated in the Soviet era, gradually left the center stage of professional discussion in the early 1990s. A similar fate befell video art, land-art, net-art and other terms which emphasize the precedence of a specific medium in a work of art: these concepts imply loss of all significance as soon as the medium’s technical possibilities are exhausted. However, individual elements of all these -arts, used in contemporary art with equal frequency, are still employed not just in description or critique of a single medium, but as a tool for conveying the author’s position or idea. But during the 1990s, in the new field of contemporary art there formed a clear tendency to use the word "photography" or "photography in art," leaving the outdated “photographic art” behind.